BOONE — Days after an Appalachian State student alleged racial profiling during an incident after the Luke Combs concert on Sept. 4 at Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone Police, the student and community activists have come together to address it in a joint statement released on Sept. 9.
Officials with the Boone Police Department were notified on Sept. 8 of a social media post alleging misconduct, specifically racial profiling, by its officers during a Sept. 4 response to an explosion that turned out to be a firework mortar shell at an apartment complex near App State’s campus.
The student, Matt Russell, went to the department to file a complaint based on his experience with Boone Police officers. Senior BPD officials and Russell met and reviewed the body worn camera footage. After seeing the footage, Russell elected not to file a complaint, according to the press release. Boone Police Chief Andy Le Beau, who was also on the scene, said he concluded the officers acted appropriately after watching the video.
The incident in question involved four white males who did not live in Boone or at the apartment complex where it took place. According to Russell, the four males were shooting off fireworks in his parking lot and being disruptive by going into apartments.
Once the explosion went off — which Le Beau said caused an officer two blocks away to grab a tourniquet thinking there would be injuries — and officers responded, the four males pointed to Russell who said they told officers “it was the Black kid in the red shirt and cowboy hat,” according to his social media post.
Russell alleged on social media that he was called down from his apartment balcony “or else” by the police officers who then questioned him. According to his social media post, he did not feel safe during the situation and was detained and questioned for about 15 minutes before he was let go. In his original social media post, Russell said he was met with aggression by the officers who he said told him to “stop lying” and to “stay down.”
The joint statement from Boone Police stated that the scene was chaotic and dynamic when officers arrived on scene as they had to stabilize the scene and determine if there were any injuries.
Boone Police stated Russell was initially pointed out as being the suspect who created the explosion and was detained. A quick investigation led BPD to determine that they could not say for sure who had ignited the mortar. The men that Russell referred to in his post were also questioned as suspects and their truck was searched, based off consent, to look for additional explosives, according to the statement.
No additional explosives were found and the men were instructed to leave the property. The driver of that vehicle was also checked for sobriety before being released, according to BPD.
“I want to thank everyone for all the love and support I have received, because without that support I wouldn’t be able to talk to Boone PD like I did today,” Russell said in the joint statement. “After our conversation, me and Boone PD came to an understanding and are working together for a change, and I would like to apologize to Officer (Ferrin) Page 213 because she has been the one taking the heat for these racist men who trespassed in my apartment complex.”
He also said community members should not send “hate” to the officer because she was the one that helped “the racist men leave my complex.” He said the situation boiled down to “four racist men with hatred in their heart.”
Le Beau said that Page has been negatively affected by the social media post and does not deserve criticism but “praise for running toward a potentially dangerous situation.”
Russell said he would be working with Boone Police to work on change and keeping the community together as all who live in Boone should “feel safe for all those who live here.”
“I wanted to gain perspective; it can always change,” Russell said in the joint statement. “You have to be willing to talk about it. That’s why I went to Boone PD. We are a community and Boone PD is part of it. We can work together to make it better.”
Le Beau said that the situation highlighted the work his department has done with the minority community in Boone. After learning about the post, Le Beau said he was able to meet with members of the App State Black Student Association, Raheim Andrews — who organized one of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 — and have discussions with App State leaders such as Lamont Sellers, the director of the App State Office of Intercultural Affairs.
“Local faith leaders play an important role in this process as well. Understandably, everyone wanted information,” Le Beau said. “We have developed relationships with the aim of being able to have open communications when problems arise. This situation showcased what together we have developed. When an allegation of racial profiling went viral we all came together.”
Le Beau told the Watauga Democrat that when he saw the original post on social media, he was at a loss because he didn’t see the situation the way Russell saw it as Le Beau said everyone has different perspectives.
“He had a perspective,” Le Beau said. “When he got to watch the body camera footage, he got to see a much broader perspective and he realized, ‘OK, it wasn’t what I thought.’”
Le Beau said Russell had the opportunity to view the body cam footage that showed the issues Russell had with Boone Police were actually with other people in the video.
Le Beau said he did wish Russell had come to them first before posting to social media. But, Le Beau said, because of how it happened, Boone Police had the opportunity to come together and work with community partners based on the relationships that they’ve been working to develop.
“I am happy that our officers acted appropriately, and I want to assure the community that if there had been any type of misconduct I would hold the officers accountable,” Le Beau said. “We have all learned lessons in this situation and gained a better understanding of each other’s perspective. We now have a new partner in this community named Matt Russell. We have a good story to share.”
If anyone feels that they have not been treated fairly by the Boone Police, Le Beau said in the statement that the department has a complaint and compliment form on their website and that they encourage citizens to use them, and the department takes them seriously.
The Black Student Association at App State also released a statement in the joint press release on Sept. 9. The group stated that they stand in support of Russell and “recognizes and validates that the experience that Russell had was traumatic,” however was not incited by the Boone Police Department, but rather the men who wrongfully accused Russell.
“It is in instances like this in which we are appreciative to have an established relationship with the Boone Police Department to review the events of that night,” the group stated. “We recognize and understand that racism does exist in this community and share these experiences and effects with our peers across multiple populations within Appalachian State and the greater Boone Community. We are not where we want to be as a community, but are working together to eradicate the stigmas and biases that remain persistent across all communities.”
The group also stated that they look forward to working further with BPD and other Black leaders within the community toward a more equitable and unbiased community.
Andrews also provided a statement stating that people should always give the benefit of the doubt to minorities, “point, blank, period.”
“This situation included immense amount of chaos and confusion, which as a minority, is extremely traumatic,” Andrews stated. “Within the chaos, the Boone Police Department was accused of racially profiling, which after further review (body cam footage) was deemed incorrect. The racial profilers were the men who accused (Russell) of committing this crime and getting away with it. Racism does exist in this community, this is a prime example. I do believe if any malpractice existed, Chief Le Beau would have held his officers accountable and punishment would have followed.”
Andrews said that everybody makes mistakes, but it’s not always the case that someone can right their mistake.
“Matt realized his mistake in his accusation and is fixing it by clearing the Boone Police Department’s name,” Andrews said. “Matt still suffered a traumatic situation, and should receive the upmost respect, love and support from this community. Matt was wrongfully accused of a crime, and detained for it, that is trauma for any Black human being. Instead of making him feel alone, everyone should offer all the love, support and forgiveness for this human mistake.”
Andrews also said wrongful accusations of crimes are “bestowed in the Black community every day, moving forward we should work together to better educate and connect the gap that is apparent in this community.”
Le Beau said he realizes that his officers — who he said “really amaze” him with all the work they do — won’t always be perfect.
“They’re human and there’s going to be some time where I’m probably going to have to say ‘you know what, we could’ve handled that one better,’” Le Beau said. “We have a commitment to police ourselves. What happened over the last two days of us working with Mr. Russell, and with us working with minority leaders in the community, I’m really proud of that work. It’s not just us. It’s our community leaders that have stepped up to make this happen.”